Last week as part of the latest Nintendo Direct broadcast, the company behind the Mario games announced that in 2024, Princess Peach will be headlining her own game for the first time in 18 years. No title was announced for the game and few gameplay details can be gleaned from the brief teaser, but I’m already hoping for good things from Princess Peach’s new adventure. After all, perhaps more than any other Mario character, the Mushroom Kingdom monarch has seen some dramatic evolution in recent years, and the character still holds a lot of exciting, untapped potential.
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Once a perennial damsel in distress who existed for Mario to save, she may at last be leaving that role behind. For millions of young moviegoers just forming their impressions of who she is, the modern Peach take we get in The Super Mario Bros. Movie is probably freshest in their minds. But I would argue that it’s a 2017 Nintendo Switch game, not that blockbuster film, that gives us the best version of Peach yet, the one that this future game of hers should take its inspiration from.
Princess Peach enters her post-damsel era
In this spring’s stupendously successfulSuper Mario Bros. Movie, we see a version of Princess Peach who exists in defiance of how she’s so often been characterized in the games. As voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy, this Peach is capable, confident, and heroic. She leads military briefings with aplomb, puts Mario through his paces as a platforming hero, and in the end, when it seems like Bowser’s plot to force her to marry him has at last succeeded, she has a trick up her sleeve.
That’s all in stark contrast to the Peach we know from the games, who has often functioned more as a plot device than a character, existing just to get kidnapped so that Mario has a motivation for his adventures. Even when she does get a bit of development or sees a little action, she’s often portrayed as demure and traditionally feminine. See Super Mario RPG, for instance, in which she attacks people with gloved slaps, parasols, and frying pans, and bestows healing magic that flies off of her as a big pink heart. It’s a relief that the Movie’s version of Peach wasn’t relegated to being kidnapped, or being defined by limiting gender stereotypes.
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And yet, I did want a little more from the Peach we see in the film. It felt as if the filmmakers were so wary of being criticized for how they handled her if viewers caught any whiff of old tropes in her depiction that they opted instead to just make her a Strong Female Character(™), a portrayal of pure competence with any flaws or rough edges sanded off. It’s better than being kidnapped, sure, but it’s not all that interesting. While Mario gets to be a flawed, low-self-esteem goofball who nonetheless has the grit and determination to rise to the great challenge that arises before him and establish himself as a true hero, there’s little possible arc for Peach, who is simply always on top of things.
Still, it’s a huge improvement on how Peach was depicted in the last game she headlined, Super Princess Peach, released for the Nintendo DS in 2005. The game’s title may suggest it’s all about The Princess Formerly Known as Toadstool, but narratively, she ends up sidelined in her own game as the story focuses more on a supporting character, Perry the parasol. That may be for the best, however, as the Peach we see in gameplay is defined by one thing: her ability to get really emotional. As GameSpot’s review by Ryan Davis noted, “There’s something rather sexist about the idea that Princess Peach’s big secret weapon is that she can get really overly emotional at the drop of a hat.”
A Princess Peach who gets to live for herself
It’s highly unlikely that Nintendo will make the same mistakes with Peach’s new outing that they did with that one, nearly 20 years ago. But while we can probably rest assured that next year’s Peach game won’t portray her as hyperemotional, that still leaves a lot of room for how it might depict her. And for my money, at least, far and away the best depiction of Peach we’ve gotten thus far was in 2017’s Super Mario Odyssey.
Now, you might be asking, “What’s so special about Peach in Super Mario Odyssey?” And yes, she does indeed get kidnapped by Bowser yet again, and spends a good chunk of the game in his clutches, wearing a wedding dress, crying out to Mario for help. Yeeeeah, I don’t love that part, though at least she has the good sense in the end, as both Mario and Bowser crowd her for affection, to leave them both in the dust. But no, it’s after you’ve clobbered Bowser and rescued Peach that Odyssey shows us a side of her we’ve never seen before.
When you approach Peach’s castle after beating Bowser, Toad informs you that “Princess Peach has gone missing AGAIN!” It may sound like the start of another kidnapping plot, but Toad’s next line tells us this is quite a different situation: “She packed her suitcase, happy as can be, and walked off!” For maybe the first time ever, Peach isn’t getting kidnapped by Bowser or baking a cake for Mario or providing healing support to your party in an RPG or doing anything that centers someone else. She is going on vacation for her own damn self. She is living her life. Finally!
As you return to the game’s many kingdoms to collect moons you missed the first time around, you see Peach (and Tiara, her own sentient hat and sister to Mario’s Cappy) enjoying the beauty and culture of each one. The first time you encounter her, she says, “Tiara and I have decided to take a trip around the world. It’ll be nice to see all of these places we ‘visited’ before, but on our own terms.”
That last line strikes me as so important. Rarely before has Peach been shown doing anything just for herself, just for its own sake. It’s wonderful to see her out and about, enjoying each of these worlds, and wearing fun, thematically appropriate new outfits in each one. In this way, she retains the stylish feminine air she’s long had, but also seems newly liberated from the need to dress for her station as princess. Instead she’s wearing more comfy, casual clothes that nonetheless look great. I’m particularly fond of her explorer getup in the dinosaur-infested Cascade Kingdom, but mostly it just does my heart good to see Peach off enjoying herself for her own sake for a change, free of both Mario and Bowser’s overbearing presence. She’s having a good time, you gather, regardless of whether or not you’re there.
Untitled Princess Peach Game – Teaser | Nintendo Direct 2023
Still, Peach’s vacation is just a minor detail in a massive game, one that’s focused almost entirely on Mario’s adventures. I’ll never forget chatting with a friend not long after Odyssey came out, each of us sharing our mixed feelings on the game as a whole. I mentioned how cool it was to at least see Peach get this little vacation for herself, and my friend, exasperated, said, “That should have been the game!” In an instant I saw it, the radical alternate timeline in which Nintendo bravely put out a full-featured, big-budget game about Peach doin’ it for herself, traveling the world, wearing spiffy outfits, collecting moons and just generally having an amazing time on her own grand adventure.
The teaser for Peach’s new game suggests it’ll be a more modest affair, a 2.5D sidescroller with a stage set aesthetic. But who knows? It could still give us a vision of Peach who is neither the damsel in distress of old, nor the blandly competent “Strong Female Character” of the film, but someone who gives off some distinctive quality of her own, who seems to be living her own life rather than purely being defined by who or what she can be to and for others. Maybe at some point, she busts free from the narrow confines of the game’s stage and finds a whole world waiting for her. Maybe someday, Nintendo will finally set her free.